BBC TV licence review could remove jail threat over failure to pay fee

People who refuse to pay the licence fee will no longer face the threat of prison under government plans which could cost the BBC £200 million a year and lead to channel closures.

Culture secretary Nicky Morgan will today launch a public consultation over the sanctions for evading the licence fee, which increases to £157.50 in April. Prosecution for non-payment of the fee can end in a court appearance and a potential fine of up to £1,000. Anyone who refuses to pay the fine faces jail.

But in a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank, Baroness Morgan of Cotes will say: “Many people consider it wrong that you can be imprisoned for not paying for your TV licence and that its enforcement punishes the vulnerable.”

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Culture secretary Nicky Morgan will today launch a public consultation over the sanctions for evading the licence fee, which increases to 157.50 in April. picture: GettyImages/JPI Media

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Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s top aide, has previously called for the “end of the BBC in its current form” and wants the broadcaster to introduce Netflix-style subscription payments. Lady Morgan will say that a “fair and proportionate approach to licence fee penalties and payments, that protects those most in need in society” will help ensure that the “TV licence fee remains relevant in this changing media landscape”.

In 2018, more than 121,000 people were convicted and sentenced for evasion and issued with an average fine of £176. The government will consider alternative enforcement methods for non-payment, using civil penalties.

Lady Morgan admitted that decriminalisation “would have an impact on BBC funding”. This would be taken into account when a new licence fee deal is renegotiated in 2022.

A 2015 government review into decriminalisation found that evasion levels would likely increase under a civil system, meaning less money for programmes.

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The minister will also announce a new Simple Payment Plan to “make it easier for those who may struggle to pay the licence fee in one go”.